Monday, April 18, 2016

Travel Photography & Videography

I feel like I have to make the announcement that I am an amateur at photography and videography so that I'm not attacked by professionals who will critique my advice and tell me everything I've said is wrong. It's just a fun hobby and a way for me to document my trips. That being said, I think my skills get better and better with every holiday so I thought I would share what I do to procure the photos and videos I share on this blog. That way, anyone who is even more amateur than me (if that is even possible) can maybe learn a thing or two and improve.
By the way, if you're interested, check out my Youtube playlist of travel videos.

THE TOOLS
camera (+ lenses and filters, as applicable)
mini tripod
strap
remote (or app)
memory cards
charger and batteries
microfiber cloth
camera case
Camera
I recommend a compact system camera, as you get the best of both worlds. It's small enough to be comparable to a regular point & shoot but the quality rivals that of a DSLR. I have the Sony NEX-5TL (and the 5R, yes, I have two; and I have to insert a little disclaimer that the NEX series has been discontinued but there are several similar ranges out there). I also love my camera because it has a flip up screen so I can see myself when I'm doing self-portraits. I can also angle the screen if I'm doing a flatlay.
You don't have to spend a fortune to get a decent camera. I actually scored the 5TL during some ridiculous Amazon sale for $300. Just keep your eyes peeled, read reviews, and if you can, play with the camera in person.

Lenses
I own four lenses: one is the kit power zoom lens (16-50mm, F3.5-5.6) and one is the kit zoom lens (18-55mm, F3.5-5.6), the third is a wide angle pancake lens (16mm, F2.8), and my most recent purchase is a telephoto zoom lens (55-210mm, F4.5-6.3). The power zoom is nice because the camera retains its portability when it's off. The pancake lens also makes the camera super portable and is great for landscape shots. And the intense zoom lens is great for nature photography; it's not as versatile as the other two and it's way more bulky, but it's definitely useful.

I think working with the kit lens to start is perfectly fine. Lenses are where you can end up spending loads of money and if you're a professional, then it's worth it. But, if you're just trying to capture some memories, I promise that the kit lens will be perfect.

Filters
I have a few filters that fit onto my lenses, namely a UV filter, a polarizing filter, a fluorescent filter, and a few macro filters. I tend to leave the UV filter on at all times for travel photography because beyond protecting the sensor from UV rays, it also acts as a scratch guard (because I'm not that consistent with replacing my lens cap after shooting). The polarizing filter is great for increasing the saturation when it's bright out; it's also used for longer exposure shots in the daytime and reducing glare and reflections (in windows and water features) but I have yet to use it for those purposes. The fluorescent filter is one I haven't touched yet; the only place I interact with fluorescent lighting is at work and at Target and I'm not really doing any photography in either of those locales. The macro filters are fun for when I'm doing food photography; I haven't really found an application for travel just yet. Perhaps if I were trying to snap some bugs close up or something? I don't know.

The filters are kind of a cursory item that aren't crucial but can come in handy. There are cheap ones (a set of 3 - including the UV, polarizing, and fluoro that I mentioned above - for under $10 on Amazon).
Mini Tripod
I recently bought a tiny gorillapod tripod and I am in love. I used it for the first time on my trip to AZ and it came in super handy. I wrapped it around tree branches and poles for self-portraits and I used it to hold it steady while shooting video.

I would highly recommend a mini tripod for travel photography. It will come in useful for taking time lapse shots, for group photos (with the photographer in the photo), and you can perfectly set up a shot instead of relying on your shaky fingers.

Strap
I like using a camera strap to keep my camera at the ready. It looks a bit touristy but instead of using the ugly giant strap that came with my camera, I made my own which makes it look less hideous.
One thing to note is that wearing a camera around your neck can look awfully touristy and make you a target for assholes looking to scam and swindle tourists. So take from this what you will.

Remote
I keep mentioning Amazon, but it's my go to for photo equipment. I bought a $5 remote control that is meant to work with my camera and it's one of my favorite purchases because it's awesome and convenient. I use it to take photos from afar (like the group photos I mentioned above) and to take shots when I don't want the action of me pressing the shutter to move the camera. If you have a smartphone, you might not need to spend any money on the app. My camera is wifi enabled and Sony makes an app compatible with the camera that allows remote control. But, if you're not keen on using up your phone battery, then the remote comes in v. handy.

Memory Cards
I recommend large memory cards and having at least two, for obvious reasons. I also think it's worthwhile to download your photos to a secondary device every few days. I don't typically travel with my laptop (it's too bulky) but I always lug along my iPad and just use the little SD card adapter. And, if I have the patience and the wifi, I'll upload to the cloud (I use Google Drive) just in case my electronics get damaged.

Charger & Batteries
My camera came with a little USB cord and wall plug that connects to the camera. But, I went and bought an actual battery charger and extra batteries so that my camera wouldn't be out of commission every time I lost a charge.

When you're on the go, you're going to want several charged up batteries at the ready. So, having these extra bits and bobs really comes in handy. And in case you didn't know, cold weather drains batteries much more quickly so keep that in mind if you're heading to a chilly destination.
Microfiber Cloth
Even if you think your shirt is as soft as a baby's ass, it can still scratch up your lens. In case you get some schmutz on the camera, you'll want a nice, soft microfiber cloth to clean it with. I didn't even buy mine. I saved every single cloth I ever received with screen protector kits (from Zagg) and I just use those.

Camera Case
If you're a klutz like me, you'll want to have somewhere squidgy and safe to keep your camera when you're traveling. I have one from Acmemade (they don't seem to be selling camera cases anymore) which I love because it's compact but functional. It's pretty minimal in that it just barely fits my camera, a secondary lens, and a few small accessories (like my external flash, remove, and a couple of batteries) but isn't that perfect for traveling?

PHOTOGRAPHY

Basics
It is extremely important that you get to know your camera and the basics of photography before you head out on holiday. I shared a little "Photo 101" post a few years back which basically summarized everything that I had learned in my quick study sessions on photo forums and Wikipedia. It's important to understand the camera and the settings so that you don't return from your vacation to find a collection of blurry, unusable photos.

Practice!
Practice photography in all kinds of light - natural, artificial, low - and try it indoors and outdoors, with moving objects, with a tripod, with your shaky hands, and learn by doing. Theory will only get you so far. Practice is what will get you actual results.
Whilst you're abroad, make a conscious effort to photograph and film everything that interests you. That being said, don't let the camera take over; remember to enjoy your holiday at the same time. I think the more you do it, the less stressful it will be.

Editing
I use Pixelmator and Picasa to edit my photos. Most of the time, I really only make minor adjustments, like cropping slightly or straightening the photo. If you use your camera correctly, you shouldn't have to make major adjustments to the lighting and contrast. But, if you do, be thoughtful about the changes you make. I hate seeing photos that have been obviously manipulated to the point where the destination is unrecognizable. For example, I've been to Horseshoe Bend and it isn't as vibrantly red and the water isn't artificially blue, as some photographers might have you believe.

VIDEOGRAPHY
This is a skill I am still working on. I have a ton of room for improvement but I don't even care because I love making travel videos and more importantly, I love watching them. As much as I enjoy the photos I take, videos can do such a great job of condensing an entire trip into a few minutes and let's face it, it's much more fun to watch a video than it is to sit and scroll through an entire library of photos, am I right?

Basics
Like I mentioned above, it's important to understand your camera and know the settings before you dive in. In videography, it's important to frame the shot, reduce unnecessary shakiness (the kind that will make you dizzy when you watch the footage back), and focus on the subject. When I was brand new, I defaulted to my camera's auto-settings and let it do the work until I was confident enough to tune the settings on my own.
Practice!
Again, practice is what will help you improve. For me, I learned that I can't just have a thousand panning shots. I also learned that if I'm taking a still, there still needs to be some movement in the shot. For example, if I'm taking a still of a church facade, it helps to have people walking in and out of the building to add interest; otherwise, it might as well just be a photo.

Editing
There are tons of video editing programs out there. I happen to use iMovie because it's free and came with my Macbook. It's also incredibly user friendly and a great tool for beginners to start on. There are tons of presets and templates to work with and there's even an audio library built in.
Once you get familiar with a program, there are tons of other tutorials to look at for tricks and other cool video manipulations. I recently learned how to "censor" something with a blur just by googling. It's all out there on the internet; seek help from those who are better.

For background music, I really like incompetech for all different genres of music and I love NoCopyrightSounds for electronic music. Obviously, you can use whatever music you like. However, if you plan on uploading videos to Youtube (which you should because it's fun and makes it much easier to share with your friends and family) then use royalty-free music so that you don't get slapped with a lawsuit.

OTHER TIPS
Know your light source and be conscious of your shadow - it can ruin a great photo.

Create an interesting composition. I love the two-thirds rule for making aesthetically pleasing photos. Centering the subject get a little boring.
Take advantage of the level bubble on your tripod to make sure the camera is set up straight. Similarly, use the level tool built into the camera (mine shows up on my screen).

I think it's great to be purposeful about the shots you're taking (because processing and editing them afterwards can be a pain). However, I strongly emphasize taking as many photos as you can of yourself and your fellow travelers. I've never come home from a trip and wished I'd taken fewer photos. Plus, if you're an amateur photog like me, you could try to snap a photo of a landscape or a monument a million times and it would still be less impressive than all the amazing shots by professionals that you can find via a Google search. But, you can't Google photos of yourself so just go for it. You won't be upset about it, I promise. The worst part will be trying to figure out which one to use for your new profile picture.

And most importantly, have fun! If you enjoy the process, you'll enjoy the memories even more.

xoxo.

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